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Stelly v. Bergeron

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

October 30, 2019

JODY STELLY
v.
JOSEPH RODERICK BERGERON, ET AL

          APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-SEVENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. LANDRY, NO. 17-C-2680-C HONORABLE ALONZO HARRIS, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Peter F. Caviness Falgoust and Caviness, LLP COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE/APPELLANT: Jody Stelly

          Bruce A. Gaudin COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS/APPELLEES: Joseph Roderick Bergeron, Janice Fontenot Bergeron, Rachel Bergeron Fontenot

          Court composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, D. Kent Savoie, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

          D. KENT SAVOIE JUDGE

         This matter involves a property dispute over whether a trailer home and improvements located on Defendants' property encroaches on Plaintiff's property. At trial, both sides submitted expert testimony and evidence from surveyors whose opinions as to the boundary differed by about twenty feet. Ultimately, the trial court split the difference and set the boundary ten feet south of the boundary proposed by Plaintiff's experts. The boundary set by the trial court resulted in a finding that Defendants' trailer home encroaches Plaintiff's property by 0.9 feet and the canopy on the trailer home encroaches by 0.1 foot. Defendants appealed, and Plaintiff answered the appeal.

         For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court's judgment in part, render in part, vacate in part, and remand the matter for proceedings in accordance with our findings herein.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 4, 1973, the heirs of Arthur Lanclos entered into an Act of Voluntary Partition dividing an 18-arpent property into eight lots. The property is described as being located "at Prairie Gros Chavreuil, in St. Landry Parish," as having 4 ½ arpents front and 4 arpents in depth, and as being bounded as follows: North, by Antoine Rivette and Ernest Babineaux (formerly Adolph Lanclos and heirs); South, by Deneze Moreau, Larry Lanclos, Eugene Lanclos (formerly Paul and Antila Lalonde); East: by Offie Lalonde (Formerly Angelos Lalonde); West, by Leonia C. Lanclos (formerly Ignace Chautin).

         The 1973 Act of Partition also states that the Arthur Lanclos heirs "have agreed to divide said property into eight (8) lots, all of which is more fully shown on a Sketch made by Melvin Lalonde dated June 27, 1973 [hereinafter, "the Lalonde Sketch"]." The Act of Partition indicates that each of the eight lots contains 1.76 acres and are all located in "Section 25. T-6-S. R-5-E. St. Landry Parish. La." This totals 14.07 acres (hereinafter referred to as "the 14.07-acre tract").

         The Lalonde Sketch suggests that the partitioned property is a rectangular tract 824 feet along the perimeter lines running due west and east, and 744 feet along the perimeter lines running due north and south. It further states "public road" on the western, southern, and eastern perimeter lines of the entire tract, suggesting that the roads also run due west and east along the southern perimeter, and due north and south along the western and eastern perimeters. The sketch also divides the 14.07-acre tract into eight rectangular lots, each containing 1.76 acres. The lines on the sketch running west and east are parallel with one another, the lines running north and south are parallel with one another, and the west-east lines intersect with the north-south lines at 90-degree angles.

         The Lalonde Sketch divides the northern half of the 14.07-acre tract into four contiguous rectangular lots (Lots 1-4), with each lot measuring 412 feet along the west-east lines, and 186 feet along the north-south lines. Lot 1 is in the northwest corner of the tract, Lot 2 borders Lot 1 on the east and is the northeast corner of the 14.07-acre tract, Lot 3 is directly south of Lot 1, and Lot 4 is directly south of Lot 2.

         The Lalonde Sketch also divides the southern half of the 14.07-acre tract into four contiguous rectangular lots (Lots 5-8), each measuring 206 feet along the west-east lines and 372 feet along the north-south lines. Lots 5 and 6 are directly south of Lot 3, and Lots 7 and 8 are directly south of lot 4. According to the sketch, there is a common corner where Lots 3, 4, 6, and 7 meet.

         Primarily at issue in this matter is the boundary between Lot 5, which is the southwest corner of the 14.07-acre tract and currently owned by Plaintiff, Jody Stelly, and Lot 3, which is north of Lot 5 and currently owned by Defendants, Joseph and Janice Bergeron. The northern boundary of Lot 5 is part of the southern boundary of Lot 3.

         Defendants, Joseph and Janice Bergeron, acquired Lot 3 pursuant to a Cash Sale on February 17, 1999. The property is described as containing 1.76 acres in Section 25, T-6-S, R-5-E, in St. Landry Parish, "and being identified as LOT #3 on a sketch by Melvin Lalonde, dated June 27, 1973[.]" It further states

Lot #3 measures 186 feet on the East side of Bailey Road by a depth of 412 feet, and is bounded on the North by lot #1 (formerly Bertrand Lanclos, now Joseph Roderick Bergeron); South by Lots 5 and 6; East by Lot #4 (Anna Lanclos); and West by Bailey Road.

         In 1997, prior to acquiring Lot 3, the Bergerons acquired a .592-acre tract of land that was part of a larger tract of land located directly north of Lot 1 of the 14.07-acre tract at issue. According to Defendants, the southwest corner of the .592-acre tract is also the northwest corner of Lot 1. A survey related to that transaction, dated May 19, 1997, which was prepared by Robert Wolfe, Jr. with Morgan Goudeau & Associates, indicates an iron rod was placed at the southwest corner of the .592 acre tract, and suggests that point is on the boundary line with Lot 1. The Bergerons built a house on the .592-acre tract and have resided there since. They subsequently acquired Lot 3 at issue herein on February 17, 1999, and Lot 1 on March 29, 1999.

         According to Mr. Bergeron and his daughter, Rachel Bergeron, Rachel moved a trailer home onto Lot 3 in 2003, near, but not over, the southern boundary with Lot 5. In 2005, the original trailer home was replaced with a larger one in the same location, and that trailer home is still there today. The front of the trailer home faces Bailey Road, which borders Lot 3 to the west. A culvert was installed prior to the first trailer home in 2003 along Bailey Road, and a concrete slab and canopy driveway were built between the trailer home and Bailey Road. The canopy is the length of the trailer home. A hurricane fence was also installed in the backyard, which is to the west of the trailer home. Rachel testified that she routinely mows the grass beyond the fence line and "a few feet" to the south of the trailer.

         Mr. Bergeron indicated that he based the placement of the improvements on Lot 3 by measuring 186 feet south along Bailey Road from the southwest corner of the .592-acre tract, which is the length of Lot 1 per the Lalonde Sketch, and then another 186 feet south from that point, which is the length of Lot 3 per the Lalonde Sketch. He indicated that he measured the distance with a tape measure and also had two or three other people measure with survey equipment. Also according to Mr. Bergeron, Mr. Lalonde, who was his wife's uncle, "showed us exactly where the property was at" prior to installing the culvert.

         At the time the trailer home and other improvements were added by the Bergerons, Lot 5 was owned by Mr. Stelly's uncle, who had acquired the property in 1990. According to the Bergerons, Mr. Stelly's uncle never complained about the trailer home or any of the improvements on Lot 3.

         Mr. Stelly acquired Lot 5 on February 5, 2009, pursuant to an Act of Cash Sale, which describes the property as containing 1.76 acres in Section 25, T-6-S, R-5-E, in St. Landry Parish, "and more particularly identified as LOT FIVE (5) on a sketch by Melvin Lalonde dated June 27, 1973." It further describes the lot as "being bounded now, or formerly, as follows: North by lot 3 of said sketch; South by Public Road (Lanclos Road); East by Lot 6 of said sketch; and West by Public Road (Bailey Road), all as more clearly shown on the herein referred sketch." Mr. Stelly testified that at the time he acquired the property, there was a shop building on the southern portion of the property near Lanclos road, but that it was otherwise an empty lot. Mr. Stelly does not live on Lot 5. According to Mr. Stelly, when he acquired the property from his uncle in 2009, his uncle showed him the boundary line, suggested that the Bergerons' trailer home was over their property line, and indicated that he was "too old" to fight the Bergerons about it.

         In 2016, after Mr. Stelly decided he wanted to have a home built on Lot 5, he hired Brandon "Shane" Breaux with Morgan Goudeau & Associates to create a survey. According to a Plat of Survey dated September 12, 2016, (herein after "the Breaux Survey"), the trailer home on the Bergeron's property (Lot 3) encroaches onto Mr. Stelly's property (Lot 5), thus resulting in the current dispute between the parties.

         On June 5, 2017, Mr. Stelly filed a Petition to Fix Boundary, for Injunctive Relief and For Damages, naming Mr. and Mrs. Bergeron, along with Rachel Bergeron, as Defendants. Therein, he asked the trial court to determine the boundary between Lots 3 and 5, issue injunctive relief regarding the trailer home, and award him with damages for trespass and conversion. The Bergeron Defendants filed an answer and supplemental answer alleging that the trailer home did not encroach onto Lot 5, and alternatively, that they acquired any encroached-upon land on Lot 5 by acquisitive prescription of ten years in accordance with La.Civ.Code arts. 3473, et. seq.

         A trial on the merits was held on January 4, 2018. Mr. Stelly relied on the Breaux Survey's depiction of the boundary between Lot 3 and Lot 5, whereas the Bergeron Defendants relied on a Plat of Survey prepared by Paul Briley with Southern Surveyors, LLC (hereinafter "the Briley Survey"). The Briley Survey depicts the subject boundary line as being about twenty feet to the south of the boundary proposed by the Breaux Survey, such that the trailer home and improvements do not encroach onto Lot 5. The Briley Survey also reflects the boundary line as suggested by the Breaux Survey and identifies the disputed area as the "area of concern."

         At trial, Mr. Stelly elicited expert testimony from Mr. Robert Wolfe, Jr., who was Mr. Breaux's supervisor at the time the Breaux Survey was completed, as well as from Mr. Breaux. Defendants elicited expert testimony from Mr. Briley. The experts' trial testimony suggested that the twenty-foot discrepancy in their opinions as to the boundary between Lots 3 and 5 resulted from different methodologies, primarily involving the starting point of the measurements, as well as the fact that the public road (Lanclos Road) ...


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